A group of us just came back from a long weekend in the Taos area. We chose to do the Racecourse white water rafting down the Rio Grande. It was a lot of fun, but this time of year the water levels are lower (July) although there was a lot of snow melt this year so we had about 1000 cfpm still. At other times during the snow melt run off season I bet the same section of river is probably more thrilling. I have whitewater rafted before and this was much tamer, but it was a lot of fun and we want to come back for the Taos Box during the high season (May to June) next year. I think there were about 2 to 3 Class III rapids with about a half dozen more Class I and II rapids sprinkled throughout. The last mile or two is gentle river rafting and many people jump out and swim alongside the boats enjoying the water (granted, it was July and the water and air is a bit warmer).
There are quite a few rafting companies that take you for tours along this section of the river. We chose Los Rios River Runners. I highly recommend them (as they were to us) and would go with this group again the next time for their other tours. The Racecourse trip is a half-day run. You meet in Pilar around 9:30 (at the Visitor Center -- free parking) a short drive from Taos (about 10 or 15 miles I guess). You check in, jump on the bus, and they drive you down to where the put-in is. At that site, they give you the safety briefing, your life vest and helmut (optional), your paddle, and they divide you up into rafts or match up parties (we were joined by 3 other guys). They have a photographer that takes beach shots and then sits in a perch near the last Class III rapid taking photos that you can purchase later online (they're kind of pricey, but very good).
Our guide was funny and knew what he was doing. He was good at giving instructions and keeping it fun. The take out was at a beach/parking area and the Los Rios bus was there (with snacks) to pick us up to drive us back to the parking area where we parked our own vehicles. We got back to the car around 12:30ish. So, plan for a full morning for this trip.
The scenery along the Racecourse section (I forget, about 8 miles I think?) is nice. The Highway from Santa Fe to Taos does run along side it most of the way, too. This section has some canyon walls, but not as high like up stream.
This trip is ideal for families and even younger children. In the summer time that is, so I would check for conditions depending on time of year when taking younger children. There were quite a few 7 to 10 year olds in the large group that went out (about 8 rafts). Nobody in our boat became a "swimmer", but in other boats there were quite a few who fell out (no little kids fell out though). The river in this section wasn't that scary and the guides in the other boats quickly got everyone back in.
This is probably a great section of river to try out if you've never whitewater rafted before or if you have a family with kids and want to have some fun. We had a great time and enjoyed Los Rios River Runners.
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